Halloween: To Appropriate Or Not To Appropriate

by DEEPA RAMUDAMU

Halloween is a time to eat lots of candy, watch scary movies and sometimes, wear racist costumes.

In recent years, the term “cultural appropriation” has gained traction and is especially relevant during this popular holiday when dressing up and being someone else is the point.

But can one have fun, be a different person and not offend anyone? Or are people being too sensitive to what’s “politically correct”?

Everyday Feminism defines cultural appropriation as “when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.” This includes wearing bindis, donning headdresses and covering up with a burqa.  

However, it’s not that simple.  Everyday Feminism goes on to say “a deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture takes elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.”

Their website also contained a video explaining more about cultural appropriation:

Last year, the movie Dear White People addressed the issue of blackface – the practice of painting one’s face in order to look like African Americans. Blackface has a long history of perpetuating racism; it was used to make fun of African Americans for hundreds of years.

The film follows the stories of four African American students and what they do when a campus fraternity decides to throw a blackface party.  While the movie faced controversy, these kinds of racist parties aren’t only fictional.

Real-life college student have addressed this issue as well.

courtesy of S.T.A.R.S.
courtesy of S.T.A.R.S.

At Ohio University, an organization called Students Teaching About Racism in Society began a poster campaign to educate others about cultural appropriation.

“The poster campaign refers to the concepts of privilege and power and how they play a role in this society,” said Joshelyn Smith, president of S.T.A.R.S.  

“A person being able to wear a costume for a night and the next day shed that identity in complete disregard to the issues impacting that community is troubling to me,” Smith said.  

courtesy of S.T.A.R.S.
courtesy of S.T.A.R.S.

Smith said to check if your costume is offensive or not, ask yourself “if I wore this in an atmosphere comprised of the culture I am recreating, would those individuals be okay with it?”

If not, Smith said, it’s probably hurtful.

“I think our biggest complaint is that we are trying to revoke the right to freedom of speech, which is not the case,” said Smith. “This advocacy campaign spreads the message that if you do choose to wear blackface for Halloween, you can no longer claim ignorance to the fact that your actions will, can, and do hurt others.”
If you’re choosing a costume this Halloween and something appropriative catches your eye, think about what the garment means for the culture and the people it was taken from before you put it on.